Playing a show longer than two hours is a mammoth undertaking for any band.
Even heavyweight festival headliners tend to wrap it up around the two-hour mark, as the crowd starts to get weary and the energy behind their fist-pumps dwindles. But Machine Head – who bring no support acts on their An Evening With… tour – make sure the atmosphere is electric from beginning to end. What’s more, they make it look easy. They’ve more than enough rousing material to fill the massive three-hour slot they treat fans at Hammersmith’s Eventim Apollo to, and from the moment the first fuzzy chords ring out, the crowd are captivated.
Opening with Clenching The Fists Of Dissent, Robb Flynn, Phil Demmel, Dave McClain and Jared MacEachern get straight to business, rocking out with their legs akimbo behind smoke explosions. They don’t need to wait for the show to get going to bring out the pyro – they’re at full intensity as they tear straight into Beautiful Mourning. Bands with less status in the metal world might have raised a few eyebrows with harmonies that fall just short of the notes they were meant to hit, but the crowd don’t even register it and bellow along regardless.
The atmosphere Robb and co have already created is electric – every gig-goer from the front row to the balcony is united in headbanging. The lights dip and bathe the stage in a warm red glow before a string interlude kicks off a passionate rendition of Now We Die. The newer, more melodic tracks that open the show get just as much of a reaction as the pounding 1997 single Take My Scars, and the transition from the more recent, measured material to Machine Head’s ballsy thrash of yore is seamless.
A “Machine Fucking Head!” chant rises every time there’s a moment of silence from the stage, but it’s not long before the crowd are exercising their lungs again to Locust’s driving stomp.
Robb’s vocals tear sharply through the chug of his and Phil’s guitars in a triumphant rendition of the song – it’s a standout moment of the set so far. Robb speaks to the audience for the first time, beaming as he welcomes them to “a journey through 22 years of Machine Head”. And there’s another reason they’ve become the metal stalwarts they are today; Robb still comes across as the kind of guy who’d go for a pint with you without any trace of frontman pretension. He takes it back to the band’s nu metal phase as he launches into From This Day’s urgent rap, which could sound incongruous among the classic metal and thrash-inspired cuts in the set so far, but he makes it fit effortlessly, before shredding like billy-o through Ten Ton Hammer and This Is The End.
The carefully crafted setlist is designed to appeal to fans from every stage of Machine Head’s career. From diehard followers who have been there since the start to more recent converts drawn in by the rousing stadium metal of later albums, all explode with glee when the band gives Desire To Fire its first live outing in 14 years. There’s hardly a bum left on a seat as the balcony contingent jump to their feet to join in the headbanging for The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears, which is swiftly followed by Crashing Around You before Robb, Dave and Jared depart and Phil launches into his harmonic guitar solo, the stage lit an eerie green.
“This isn’t the fucking Eventim Apollo, it’s the Hammersmith Odeon!” declares Robb when he reappears, drawing a cheer from an audience who clearly aren’t fans of the renaming of venues either. “I grew up watching AC/DC and Ozzy videos from Hammersmith,” the frontman goes on, his speech punctuated with strums on the acoustic guitar he’s now wearing over his electric one. He tells the crowd that he’s glad they chose to attend a Machine Head show over going to “the dance club to pick up girls and watch the DJ press a space bar” before launching into Darkness Within.
It’s been almost two and a half hours by this point, but if the guys are flagging, they’re not showing it. Dave’s drum solo is meticulously on the beat, and a vast circlepit kicks off in the stalls at Robb’s command. The tunes just keep coming, including the obligatory Davidian and Imperium. “Still got some energy?” Robb barks at the crowd. The delirious cheer proves they have, and Robb and Phil are in their element as they riff back-to-back through Aesthetics Of Hate. Robb keeps faithful to the record on Game Over, angrily sucking in air between snarled vocal lines, and ending the epic set with Blood For Blood and the mighty Halo.
The band have performed with maximum conviction throughout the whole set, and their obvious pleasure at performing to such a receptive crowd is infectious. Robb doesn’t need to tell “Hammy O” to get on their feet – they have been up dancing from the start.